1. How many displaced people are there in the world today?
Explanation: At the end of 2021, there were 89.3 million people displaced around the world, according to a report released by the UNHCR for World Refugee Day 2022. But the Ukraine War has pushed that number over the staggering milestone of 100 million. New waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Yemen, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and the DRCongo have also contributed to the astounding increase in displaced people over the past year. Overall, the number has more than doubled in the past ten years alone.
100 million people represents 1% of the global population and is nearly equal to the populations of the United Kingdom and Canada combined. The number includes refugees, asylum seekers, and the more than 53.2 million people and over 7 million Ukrainians who have been displaced inside their own countries.
- A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home and cross an international border because of war, violence or persecution, often without warning. Refugees are unable to return home unless their native lands become safe for them again.
- An Asylum seeker is someone who is seeking international protection from dangers in his or her home country, but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t been established legally. Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination – meaning they must arrive at or cross a border in order to apply. Then they must be able to prove to authorities there that they meet the criteria to be covered by legal refugee protections. Not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee.
- International Rescue Committee: https://www.rescue.org/article/100-million-people-displaced-around-world-what-you-need-know)
2. How many refugees were resettled in the U.S. during fiscal year 2021?
Explanation: As a campaign promise, President Biden pledged to reverse many of the restrictive refugee policies that were instituted by the Trump Administration. In his first 6 months in office, he raised the refugee ceiling for FY 2021 from 15,000, originally set by President Trump, to 62,500. However, in that same year, Biden only admitted 11,411 refugees, the lowest annual tally in the history of the modern refugee program, below even the multiple record-low resettlement years under President Trump.
In FY 2022, Biden raised the annual refugee admissions number to 125,000. However, once again, the numbers he actually admitted were way below the ceiling, totaling 25,465.
There are several reasons for these low resettlement totals, including the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision to resettle scores of thousands of Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees, and the failure by the Biden administration to allocate resources to rebuild the refugee resettlement system that was decimated in the Trump era.
In September, 2022, Biden announced that the official refugee ceiling for FY 2023 will stay the same at 125,000. It remains to be seen how many refugees will actually come.
3. How many Afghans have entered the country since the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, 2021?
Explanation: Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, the Taliban retook the country much faster than anyone had expected and threatened the lives of Afghan nationals who had supported the American cause. The US government made a commitment to evacuate Afghans who had worked for a U.S. military contractor, media organization, or nonprofit. Over the next six months, 76,000 Afghans were processed at US military bases and resettled in cities and towns around the country. Rhode Island accepted 350.
Most Afghans were admitted to the US under a program known as Humanitarian Parole, which grants them two years of temporary status. They were not classified as legal refugees, which comes with social supports and a pathway to citizenship, since the formal vetting process for refugee status can take years. As a result, most Afghans resettled in the US currently have no legal residency or sense of permanence. Approximately 40% of them will be eligible for special immigrant visas (SIVs), but the rest will need to apply for asylum, which is expensive, requires legal assistance, and can drag out indefinitely. Currently, the backlog for asylum applications is extensive and most estimates indicate that at least 90% will be denied.
A piece of bipartisan legislation known as The Afghan Adjustment Act has recently been reintroduced in Congress, which would allow resettled Afghans to apply for permanent residency after living in the United States for a year. Similar programs were put in place for evacuees from Vietnam, Iraq, and Cuba, so there is a precedent for this. The Afghan Adjustment Act would lift Afghans out of their current limbo and the hope is that the legislation will be passed before their temporary residency expires.
4. How many Ukrainians have entered the US since the Russian invasion began in February, 2022?
Explanation: In March, 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Biden made the executive decision to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. This number has now been surpassed. As of September, 2022, the number of Ukrainians who have fled their country and come to the US totals around 150,000.
About half of those arrived through United for Ukraine, an ad hoc program launched in April as an emergency response to the crisis. This program allows individuals in the US to sponsor Ukrainian refugees and their families to enter the country with Humanitarian Parole status similar to that employed for Afghan refugees evacuated to the US last year. And more than 79,000 Ukrainians have been processed through temporary visas or have applied for and received legal refugee status. Finally, about 20,000 Ukrainians entered through the US-Mexican border earlier this year, but that avenue has since been closed.
The pathway Ukrainians take to get to the US determines what level of social services they receive once they arrive. Those admitted as legal refugees get help with basic necessities like housing, employment and enrollment for children’s schooling and other benefits. And they are on much firmer footing when it comes to permanent residence, which they can apply for after living for a year in the US. The process for obtaining legal refugee status is ponderous and slow, but once accepted, the benefits and support services are guaranteed.
This is not the case for other pathways. Those admitted through United For Ukraine, for instance, are only eligible to stay in the country for 2 years and do not received formal social services or a path to citizenship. They are largely dependent on the goodwill of their sponsors for support and help. There is growing anxiety among Ukrainians resettled through United For Ukraine about what will happen to them in the future.
There seems to be an assumption that Ukrainians will want to return home, but that raises the question: What is home going to look like in two years’ time?
5. Currently, how long does it take for the US to screen and approve a refugee’s request for resettlement?
- 2 months to 6 months
- 18 months to 2 years
- 2 years to 10 years
Explanation: Most US government websites state that the resettlement process takes 18 months to two years. But the current reality is very different. According to The National Immigration Forum, the refugee admissions process is so backlogged and filled with inefficiencies that the real timeframe may be closer to 10 years.
Part of the problem is that the vetting process for resettling refugees in the US has grown increasingly complicated in recent years, involving numerous government agencies and at least five separate information technology systems. Refugees cannot simply apply for resettlement themselves. They must first be referred by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) as meeting the definition of a refugee in need of resettlement. A UNHCR staff member initiates the process by interviewing the applicant and collecting biographic information to share with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) so they can initiate security checks. By the time the security checks are completed, eight US government agencies have completed six separate background checks in five different databases. In addition to family history and medical exams, refugees receive iris scans, fingerprinting, facial scans, and sometimes even DNA tests.
Next, officers from the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) go on what are commonly known as “circuit rides” to conduct in-person interviews with applicants in their host countries. These interviews are designed to collect additional information and verify applicants’ eligibility for refugee status.
If a refugee passes all the required interviews and screenings, they are connected to a sponsoring resettlement agency in the US with the capacity to welcome them. They attend a cultural orientation and take out a loan to pay for their flights to the U.S. The government provides resettlement agencies with a one-time payment of $2,175 per refugee to cover housing and other basic needs for the first three months in the US. Only then can a refugee come to this country.
Clearly, the system is inefficient and it is not surprising that in 2021, only 3% of the world’s refugees were resettled, leaving 97% to languish in refugee camps. But a number of other issues have contributed to the backlog as well. The covid pandemic, the unexpected resettlement of Afghans and Ukrainians, and the failure to rebuild the national refugee resettlement system that was decimated during the Trump-era have all exacerbated the problem. In addition, there seems to be a lack of will by the Biden administration to improve the situation. In spite of stated attempts to reform the process, federal resources and staff for refugee resettlement continue to decline. In 2016, for instance, 352 refugee officers were tasked with conducting the “circuit ride” interviews. By 2021, the number had been reduced to just 189 and continues to decline.
6. True or False: Cities with higher refugee and immigrant populations are more likely to be ridden with crime and violence
Explanation: According to Gallup polls conducted in 2017, almost half of Americans believe that immigrants make crime worse. The argument that immigrants bring crime into America has driven many policies, such as restrictions to entry, travel and visas; heightened border enforcement; and the wall along the Mexican border.
Researchers from four universities came together to analyze the relationship between immigration rates and crime in 200 large and small metropolitan areas between 1970 and 2016. The selected areas included huge urban hubs like New York City and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth of that size, like Muncie, Indiana. Their findings showed that where immigration grew, violent and property crime generally decreased.
In 136 metro areas, almost 70% of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed the same or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower – 54 areas, slightly more than a quarter of the total. The ten places with the largest increases in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980.
The study’s data suggest either that immigration has the effect of reducing crime, or that there is simply no relationship between the two and that the 54 areas in the study where both immigration and crime grew were instances of coincidence, not cause and effect.
The subtitle of the report is: “The link between immigration and crime exists in the imaginations of Americans, and nowhere else.” This appears to be true.